Writing a novel is like driving along a road at night with only one’s headlights to see by and the headlights illuminate the way... a couple car lengths ahead. So says my friend, novelist Jim Houston. And that’s what I feel now with this current project, Dr. Sward’s Cure for Melancholia.
I’m a fraud unless I can deliver on the promise, A Cure for Melancholia. I’m a fraud unless I can –with the help of the muse—tell a story that will engage the reader, a story that I would have liked to have come across when I was, well, just barely keeping on keeping on. At the same time I’m writing this for myself and maybe one other person. An audience of one, two people... that would make it worthwhile. This Blog, by the way, is going on in the foreground while the “other,” its counterpart, Dr. Sward’s Cure..., is going on somewhere else. But the one complements the other. Truth is, I need the one in order to write the other.
The muse Calliope had two sons, Orpheus and Linus, by Apollo, the god of prophecy, sunlight, music, and healing. Calliope was the oldest and wisest of the Muses. She was also the judge in the argument over Adonis between Aphrodite and Persephone, giving each equal time with him. She was represented by a stylus and wax tablets.
“She is always seen with a writing tablet in her hand. At times she is depicted as carrying a roll of paper or a book or wearing a gold crown.” (Wikipedia).
The muses are typically invoked at or near the beginning of a, well, let’s call it a “project.” Mine: Dr. Sward’s Cure for Melancholia. Muses are sometimes represented as the true speaker of the poem, for whom the poet is only a mouthpiece. So, in that sense, I have Calliope—and my prayer she will favor me—and, as well, my father. I invoke Calliope. I invoke Dr. Sward, my father. [I just read this posting aloud to my love who says, “No, your father is not a muse. It doesn’t work.” Hmm. Well,if he's not a muse, can he at least be an inspiration?]
Meanwhile, a publisher has expressed (tentative, cautious...) interest in one or another of my works in progress. However, the work, whatever it is, would not appear in print until 2011 or 2012. Okay, I can live with that. I count myself lucky.
I read the following aloud to my love, who prefers that to the word “wife.” I’ve been married four times and two of the four objected to the word “wife.” “No, I’m not your wife. You don’t own me,” said one. And my love, my partner for 20 years, says she objects because “wife” is mundane, domestic and unromantic. And, too, I suppose because I’ve been married so many times.
Invoking the muse is not merely a literary device. I’m not so sure we’d even have Homer’s Odyssey, Dante’s Inferno and Milton’s Paradise Lost if they had unsuccessfully invoked the muse. No muse, no poem. These, for me, are classic examples of poets invoking...
“Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns
driven time and again off course, once he had plundered
the hallowed heights of Troy.” (Homer, in Book 1 of The Odyssey, Robert Fagles, translation, 1996).
“O Muses, O high genius, aid me now!
O memory that engraved the things I saw,
Here shall your worth be manifest to all!” (Dante Alighieri, in Canto II of the Inferno, Anthony Esolen translation, 2002).
“Of Man’s first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste
Brought death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat,
Sing, Heavenly Muse...” (John Milton, Opening of Book 1 of Paradise Lost).
The British poet Robert Graves writes, “No Muse-poet grows conscious of the Muse except by experience of a woman in whom the Goddess is to some degree resident... A Muse-poet falls in love, absolutely, and his true love is for him the embodiment of the Muse...”
I’m not in their league. I’m not even sure why I write. Most of my high school friends became lawyers. They made money. They earned a living. One became hard-living, death-defying adventurer Evel Knievel’s personal lawyer. So I’m told. Do lawyer’s have muses? Do depressed poets have muses? Anyway, I’m not a poet. Not like... “those guys.” Twenty books, twenty-five books, thirty books... scribble scribble scribble. Time I could better have spent with my children. Five children I have. Five grandchildren. Five wives, truth be told. What have I accomplished? Fuck all. Fuck all. Most of my books are out of print. Who reads this shit?
Fuck you. Fuck you!! says Calliope.
Well, not all women object. I invoke my muse, my love, my not wife:
The poem is called 108,000 WAYS OF MAKING LOVE.
“Her lips are full, magenta-red
“Bare-chested, she wears a yellow silk
I cup my right hand
under her blue chin
and bend to kiss her,
encircling her waist with my left arm...” Etc.
Then there’s KISS BITE AND MOO SOFTLY
“—Muse voice is loved woman mumbling.
“Going shopping with the muse
you come away buying the right things:
rare books and cashmere pullovers for him,
silk dresses, a gold and amethyst necklace for her...” Etc.
And one ON HER 60TH BIRTHDAY...
“'Beautiful, splendid, magnificent,
delightful, charming, appealing,’
says the dictionary.
And that’s how I start... But I hear her say,
‘Make it less glorious and more Gloria.” Etc.
And so it is I (also) call upon my father. In some sense I see him as a celestial parent. He’s dead. He’s willing to communicate with me. I may be crazy, it’s true, but he’s an inspiration, in part, because I need him and he wasn’t much present when he was alive. I’m getting more juice from him now. I’m getting more of what I need from him now. The sonofabitch, selfish selfish, we have that in common, for sure. Anyway, he owes me. He owes me lots of poems, good shit that’ll do me some good and him some good. I think he needs me. I think he’s a little lonely, in heaven, no doubt, still something of an outsider. Celestial, he may be, but still an outsider.
So I idealize him, it serves my purpose. He wasn’t much of a father alive, sad to say, but at least he didn’t leave. He didn’t walk. He just wasn’t there. The man was selfish, totally self-involved. Even as a child. So said his sister, the one relative with whom I connected. So he went on his occult trip. Jewish Rosicrucian bullshit. And it suits me fine. So I went to be with Swami Muktananda. From 1973 to 1982 I did that shit. Who’s to say? It may have done me some good.
Bibble babble. Why are you reading this shit? Don’t you have a life of your own? Dear reader, this is how he appears to me. This is what one reader calls an “idealization.” “Okay, Dad,” I’m thinking, “You owe me. Gimme a poem, okay? Gimme a whole bunch of poems and make ‘em good or when I see you again you’re really gonna hear from me. Jesus. Jesus."
“Masked man in the half light,
Starched white jacket and pants...”
(“God’s Podiatrist”, p. 147, The Collected Poems)
“Wears a denim shirt, bola tie,
turquoise and silver tip,
tanned, tennis-playing, macho...”
(“Good News from the Other World”, p. 144)
“Greets me in the waiting room,
father with waxed,
son, too, with spit-shine, five-eyelet shoes.
This is how I was brought up. I do it
to show respect.
Value your feet.”
"Arch Supports--The Fitting", p. 145)
So, what is the cure for melancholia? And if one experiences the “de-materialization” of one’s mind, as I did, no mind, okay? No imagination. No... nothing. Zombie-hood. Fucked to hell empty shell of a poet. A poet? I don’t dare call me that. Fuck. I’m a journalist. A feature writer at best. Scribble Scribble Scribble.
Say, Dr. Sward, say one’s mind de-materializes. Is it possible to get it back again? No imagination. Zilch. Nothing. The best thing that happened to me besides everything else is she stayed with me. That’s “...in sickness and in health.” That’s stayin’ with someone. And she even tells me when to shut up. Enough already!”